Archive for April, 2013

Superman; If Only We Could Be so Human

Date: April 28th, 2012

TheByteDaily

Superman; If Only We Could Be so Human

 

I have always bared a heavy bias towards the Dark Knight. In what can only be described as the most pervasive form of artistic negligence, I entered the Batman v. Superman case having already decided that my allegiances lay against the Last Son of Krypton. Considering this is a mere extension of the decades old fan-debate over who is better than whom, it’s understandable that I didn’t place great penalty on the infraction; I’m a bigger fan of Batman than I am of Superman, I think that Batman is a better hero than Superman, and that really is the end of that.

 

Regardless, having read more stories that feature the big blue boyscout, I’ve come to the disastrous conclusion that I was, ultimately, wrong about Superman. My original article about the debate, for anyone who wants a fair understanding of what makes Batman a remarkable example of human fortitude and perseverance.

 

However, I was wrong about Superman, which is why I feel the need to approach the subject yet again, with a more equivocal and understanding view of the immigrant from the stars who taught us all how to be heroes.

 

It’s helpful that a superhero’s name is a how-to guide to understanding what makes them so special (The Flash being a disappointing example of the evolution of language, and his name notwithstanding), because Superman’s identity is entirely encapsulated in his nom de plume. To avoid the redundancy that I’m sure will arise from this article, Superman will hitherto be referred to by one of his numerous noms populaires. Kal-El’s entire existence can be summed up in his chosen hero name; simply put, he is a super man. Certainly, it helps that his kryptonian physiology becomes supercharged once it is in the presence of a yellow sun, which makes him a living solar battery capable of storing an unlimited amount of varying forms of solar radiation, but beyond the powers that grant him the ability to be more than human, he is simply nothing more than a super man.

 

Before writing this article, I considered what this could mean – I attempted to distinguish traits that result in an individual being more than human, and I found that I almost immediately drew a blank. Continuing my original train of thought, I decided to ignore the greater-than-human-traits, and simply focus on the great human traits. I happen to bare a strong genetic bias towards my own species, and though the human population does not possess the greatest list of genetic advantages, it’s undeniable that we seem to possess an astounding ability to propagate and survive. A further obstacle arose when I was forced to admit that the many great human qualities are only labeled because humans themselves have been in possession of the Dymo.

 

Compassion, a desire to help family, generosity, hope, and benevolence are biological necessities, and deeming certain traits “Great” simply because humans found a good word to describe various acts of charity is not only arrogant, but also immature and pedantic.

 

Perhaps it is in this way that Clark Kent encompasses the best of humanity’s many qualities. Beyond the physical feats that he can accomplish, beyond the ability to understand the cosmos on an infinitesimal level, and beyond the philosophy that he basks in, Superman allows us to question ourselves and to examine our own existences in self-reflection. An insightful TED talk compared the Superman character to the messianic one of Jesus, craftily drawing parallels between God sending Jesus to Earth as humanity’s savior, and Jor-El sending his son Kal-El in a desperate attempt to make meaning of his son’s life. Both sons not knowing of their true destinies, but both facing very human struggles to aspire beyond the greatness that their fates would have of them.

 

Superman is not a god.

 

He is merely a man – perhaps not a human, but a man nonetheless – who aspired to be more than himself. What makes the man super is not his ability to be great, but his desire to be a defender of the ideals that make humanity and the planet, more than just simple cosmic existences floating in a dark and deeply misunderstood universe. What’s interesting is that Superman’s greatest adversary has always been Lex Luthor – a very human man with abilities and skills equivalent to the highest echelons of our evolution. The alien’s greatest adversary has always been a terrestrial trying to prove to all of his peers that in the face of the divine, we are all capable of approaching divinity.

 

The skills we are born with do not necessitate the people we become.

 

A human, trying to prove to his fellow humans, that we do not need to be born special to become special. A human standing in the face of what can only be perceived as a god, trying and succeeding in proving his equality, Lex Luthor – though a glorious caricature of humanity’s greatest misgivings – proves that though all creatures are not born equal, but despite our handicaps, we are all capable of achieving greatness. The implications of this analysis being that the Man of Steel is not a super man because of his skills, but because he strives to be greater than his post.

 

I was wrong about Superman.

 

I always assumed he was an omnipotent blue boyscout. It turns out Superman is more human the any member of the species, and simply does what everyone dreams of doing: Being more than who he was born to be.

 

As always, this has been you Admin, the not so Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

The Man with the Iron Fists (TheByteScene Review)

Date: April 20th, 2013

 

TheByteDaily

 

The Man with the Iron Fists

 

3 Golden-Lions out of 4

 

I’m sure there’s a school-of-thought that believes that period pieces should be shot as homages to the past, highlighting how far society has advanced, and how much the overall human collective has achieved in the present, all while using the past as a pedestal for the future. As for Quentin Tarantino and company – the group of filmmakers who have studied under and worked with the cinematic trigger finger – it seems that the way to create an homage is by reducing an entire genre to the sum of its parts and mercilessly showcasing their love for it in a brutal display of cinematic sensationalism.

 

RZA purportedly spent 30 days taking notes and watching Tarantino work during the shooting of the latter’s Kill Bill films, and it’s evident that the Wu-Tang Clansmen has matured into master from pupil.

 

The Man with the Iron Fists is in no way an homage to the martial arts genre as much as it is  an ode to the micro-epics that served as the backbone for the Western definition of kung-fu. The film is bursting with ancient Eastern philosophy, wise mystics, remarkably choreographed fight-scenes, cheesy, baudy characters, and almost every cliche the genre is known for, barring the poorly dubbed voices. If it weren’t for the paper-thin story that doesn’t actually tackle the main plot until almost halfway through the film’s runtime, this would be the greatest ode to kung-fu action cinema ever, and would actually deserve to be considered one of the greatest kung-fu films of all time.

 

It’s clear from the film’s opening credits that those involved in the production’s creation show a deep respect, fondness, and affinity for the martial arts genre, and the kung-fu action cinema subgenre specifically. RZA’s directorial debut is outstanding, and while the writing is profoundly weak on near-spiritual levels, the film is a masterpiece in almost every other way. The editing is tight, the cinematography is crisp and gorgeous, the music is superb, and the fight-scenes are so beautifully choreographed that the extras might as well be credited as backup dancers.

 

RZA’s vision is that of Jungle Village, a shanty war-torn town ravaged by power-hungry clans. The execution of leader of the ruling Lion Clan, Gold Lion, by the conniving, yet oddly camp Silver Lion acts as the spark that sets off Jungle VIllage’s proverbial powder keg, forcing Gold Lion’s son Zen-Yi to leave his fiance, return to the village, and reclaim the lost honor of his family and his clan. Given the plot in context of the genre, it all makes perfect sense. Add some of the Emperor’s gold, Russel Crowe as a British consul, RZA as a talented Blacksmith, Lucy Liu as the head of the Pink Blossom brothel, and David Bautista as a mercenary named Brass Body into the mix, and the stage is set for an explosion of francium-based proportions.

 

Despite the wide-range of acting (and musical) talent on display, the film suffers from extremely slow moments of exposition that neither provide, nor take away, to the film in any significant way. Not to mention, the film’s arguable main character divulges a relatively weak story – never boring mind, but often weak. Hoping to escape the darkness of Jungle Village, the blacksmith is in love with a prostitute in the Pink Blossom. One would be excused for expecting a twist, a knife-in-the-back, or a betrayal, but sadly the romance never amounts to anything more than screentime for the two lovers.

 

The film’s soundtrack serves as a strong highlight, and features an eclectic mix between traditional Eastern influence, Hip-Hop, and Ennio Morricone thrown in for good measure. The movie is directed by RZA after all. What’s interesting is how well the tracks are edited together and incorporated into the film’s main score; it was rare for the film to mindlessly throw in a track from the soundtrack and risk ruining RZA’s and Howard Dossin’s own score.

 

Writing yet again, is weak. Disappointingly so, especially since this is an otherwise strong film that is even more important because it serves as an example of an action-flick that is worth watching specifically for the action. The Man with the Iron Fists is a rare film whose action is art, and whose director understands the genre and chooses to embrace every aspect of it.

 

Watching The Man with the Iron Fists, I’ve come to believe that the only way to shoot an homage is by mercilessly brutalizing the genre into submission, showing off everything that made an audience fall in love with it, and everything that made critics lampoon and deride it into arbitrary defection. RZA has made more than a homage to the kung-fu action cinema subgenre, and has, instead, created a singularity designed to appeal to fans specifically, and everyone else who stayed past the hilariously cheesy opening credits. Under almost every circumstance, the film is a masterpiece.

 

Almost.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the slightly-Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

Remakes, Reimaginings, Reboots, and Adaptations; A Discussion About Stuff by A Fan of Stuff

Date: April 17th, 2013

 

TheByteDaily

 

Remakes, Reimaginings, Reboots, and Adaptations; A Discussion About Stuff by A Fan of Stuff

 

When I first learned of Starkid Production’s A Very Potter Musical, well before I even had the opportunity to watch the show, I was skeptical about the direction the community-theatre-company would be taking regarding the decision they were making. I was concerned that the musical was intended to cash in on a blockbuster franchise, and I was incredibly concerned that the musical aspect of the production would be akin to a shark-jumping moment for the franchise. More importantly, I was worried that the team would attempt to take the already existing Harry Potter plot-line and simply recreate the movies with a theatrical style and musical flair.

 

In retrospect, I don’t know what elements I was concerning myself with since the aforementioned production details sound amazing and hilariously entertaining, though I do digress. Well, that and the fact that Starkid Productions used almost every piece of the Harry Potter universe – including the fan-universe – and created three productions totalling almost ten-hours for one of the best fanmade musicals I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

 

I digress, however.

 

What I mean to say is that, when I first heard about the musical, my inner fan exploded in spectacular fashion to warn me about a reimagining of a personal favourite franchise. I cannot stress enough how little I knew about the show, or how little I knew that Starkid would create something funny, endearing, emotional, enormously entertaining, and specifically for the fans of the Harry Potter universe.

 

Frankly, however, It’s an unsurprising reaction to the news of a remake, reboot, sequel, or reimagining, and I’ve noticed that I, and many other proclaimed critics of the human condition, become more and more critically cynical of the news regarding adaptations as more and more adaptations fail in ways that rival the Hindenburg or the Titanic – hubris notwithstanding.

 

I looked forward to the live-action adaptation of Avatar the Last Airbender, I looked past the fact that M. Night Shyamalan would be directing it, and I even let go of the disappointment I experienced at the casting choices, only to be reminded of all the film’s failings when I watched it in theatres. I was excited for the live-action adaptation of the Green Lantern character and even thought that this marked the beginning of a potential Justice League spinoff. As more details entered my field-of-view, I became excited for the casting of Ryan Reynolds and Mark Strong, I marveled at the set-pieces being shown off in marketing stills, and I even thought that the actual costume looked pretty cool, only to be marvelously crushed once I saw the shoddy, poorly written, and ultimately boring finished product.

 

Of course, for every Green Lantern there’s a trilogy of amazing Batman films directed and written by individuals who actually understand the character and the mythos. For every Transformers and Battleship there’s an enjoyable adaptation of Clue, and for every G.I. Joe: Retaliation, there’s a G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. For every odd-numbered Star Trek failure, there’s an even numbered (and ninth) success that provide reasons to be excited at the prospect of a popular franchise adaptation.

 

My point is that for every failed adaptation, there’s another that makes it worthwhile being a fan – I’d list examples, but that would be redundant. For every ten adaptive failures, there are two or three subsequent successes that raise the spirits and give hope to fans and filmgoers alike. However, because of the high frequency of failed adaptations, marketing buzz that amounts to nothing, and amazing trailers that mask remarkably stunning failures in plot, character development, special effects, casting, and direction, my reaction to the news of a sequel, remake, reboot, reimagining, or adaptation has become cringe-inducing cynicism.

 

I once again find myself facing this same cynicism in the wake of the new Superman film that was announced around 2009, and that was first trailered in 2012 alongside the theatrical release of The Dark Knight Rises. Yesterday, April 16th 2013, marked the release of Man of Steel’s third trailer and my excitement has once again been elevated.

 

As a fan of the Superman comic books, however, I know that I shouldn’t get my hopes up.

 

Almost every film starring the eponymous man of steel since Superman III has been an unmitigated disaster, and though the animated character has barely suffered (with the comics, and DC animated universe not faltering in quality), any hope for a decent Superman movie went out the window with 2006’s Superman Returns.

 

I won’t get into what made these films bad, and I won’t discuss my personal gripe with the films because I’m forced to admit that Man of Steel’s trailer shows a marked improvement. Despite the data to suggest otherwise, I do believe that the Zac-Snyder-and-Christopher-Nolan helmed film has the potential to please both Superman’s fans, and the palates of most film-goers. This, however, is a belief firmly rooted in the trailers I have seen so far, and the information gathered from interviews, inside sources, executives, producers, and the actors themselves (not to mention the film’s Wikipedia page).

 

My ultimate point, however, has little to do with either Harry Potter or Superman, and has everything to do with my reaction as a fan of an independent property.

 

Instead of being excited by the prospect of another medium creating a story out of something I’m a fan of, I’m immediately cynical about the direction an individual is going to take with the topic. This is fascinatingly nonsensical, because most of my favourite stories – my favourite independent properties – have had life breathed into them by people in no way affiliated with the original creators.

 

It’s almost as if, when it comes to movies, my inner fan rises to the defence of the property, but when it comes to Mark Millar raising Superman in the former Soviet Union, Grant Morrison making Superman an All-Star, or even Frank Miller having Superman fight Batman because the latter has become a threat to the freedom and independence of America in The Dark Knight Returns I’m perfectly fine being at the mercy of the writers, artists, editors, and publishers at DC Comics. It’s almost as if, when it comes to anything other than their original medium, I, and a large population of the fanbase, forget that characters are just that – characters created for the not-so-simple purpose of being part of stories.

 

Stories that, if written well, are interesting and entertaining enough to warrant creation. Stories that, fortunately, are intended to insure that independent properties remain interesting. Stories that, ultimately, are meant to appeal to both fans, and newcomers.

 

Perhaps therein lies the issue; perhaps I’m not upset about a remake or a reboot, or even that my so-called “Rights as a fan” are being tread upon. Perhaps it’s simply the fact that a character or story that I find entertaining, interesting, and worth examining, can potentially end up being ruined in an exaggerated, but still personally hurtful manner. Perhaps the problem isn’t so much that characters aren’t being utilized to their full extent, as much as it’s us feeling that our heroes – the characters, and the universes they inhabit, that we recognize – no longer belong to us.

 

I don’t completely understand why I become cynical when I hear about the potential Justice League movie, or the new Star Wars trilogy, especially when I look forward to the new additions to both universes – Star Wars, DC, Harry Potter, or otherwise. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would raise a fuss about a single poor portrayal in a different medium when there are hundreds of bad examples within the original medium to begin with.

 

What I do know, however, is how it feels finding out that our heroes aren’t the same as everyone else’s and, most importantly, how it feels knowing that our heroes are not, were not, and never will be ours alone.

 

Perhaps, quite simply, it’s a mere reimagining of the classic schoolyard debate of whose hero is better than whose, and who cares more about whom.

 

Which breathes a new, expansive layer of irony into this entire article.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the not-so Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK